Rep PabonSpeaks Out for Education, Vaccination and Students Against Meningitis

Despite spring snows, it’s graduation season and summer sports will soon be in full swing.  As our young people look toward the season ahead with anticipation, it’s also vital that parents and students focus on the looming danger of meningitis. To combat this stealthy killer of young Coloradans, legislators of both parties recently came together to urge increased education and vaccination because we know these steps can save lives.  
We in the Legislature have heard over the years from many parents –including parents here in Colorado – about the devastating, sudden loss of a previously healthy, vibrant son or daughter to the ravages of meningitis.
Lisa and Jon Krizman of Loveland, whose daughter, Sierra, died of the disease while a college freshman, have written publicly that – like too many parents – they were “unaware of the fatal disease, or of the vaccine that could
have prevent it, until it was too late.” 

The Krizmans and many other families across the nation – up to 1,500 victims in the nation every year with 15 percent of those cases resulting in death – have learned why meningitis is called a hidden killer.  The disease can come on a young person with little warning, being masked by what is often mistaken for flu symptoms:  a headache, sore throat, body aches.   
If identified early as meningitis, a patient can be cured. If not, they can have devastating long-term effects, including the loss of limbs, long-lasting neurological conditions – or death.
The fact is that the several strains of the disease are prevalent in children under the age of one, but primarily among young people in high school and college, between the ages of 16 and 23.   We all know that young people often gather in large group settings on high school and college campuses and those settings increase the risk of the spread of meningitis.  
This is a public health emergency in our state.  For that reason, I sponsored a resolution in the state House of Representatives that puts us on record urging a stepped-up fight against meningitis in all its forms.

Colorado has certainly not been idle in the face of this disease.  Our state health department and the University of Colorado have worked with student leaders at CU to raise awareness throughout the Pac 12 conference about meningitis vaccination. And many high schools are ensuring that the facts about meningitis – including about the meningitis B strain that now has a vaccine to fight it — are being sent home with students to moms and dads.    
But we believe that more must be done.  It is clear from the science, and from the testimony of medical professionals from across the country, that we can prevent more young people from suffering – and parents from unspeakable loss and grief.
In our resolution legislators in both parties, from every corner of Colorado, have united to urge all high schools and colleges in the state – public and private – to provide parents and students with a comprehensive education about the dangers of meningitis.   This should include the facts about the different strains of the disease, its stealthy symptoms, how the disease can be spread, and its treatment.

A vital part of that education is also about vaccination:  what to get, where to get it, and the studies about its effectiveness in preventing the disease.   The fact is that we can tell athletes not to share water bottles, or tell young women not to share lipstick – or the many other ways to lower risk – but the best way to not get meningitis is to be vaccinated.  Education is more important now because the most deadly strain hitting college campuses – meningitis B – isn’t covered by the current required vaccine.  So parents and students need to learn about this additional vaccine.  
In a time when the political parties are divided on seemingly every issue, large and small, I’m proud that this life-and-death issue facing young Coloradans has brought us together, and allowed us to speak out for education and vaccination against meningitis.

Rep. Dan Pabon
Denver, CO